The Trump administration’s indictment of Julian Assange threatens core press freedom rights

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Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

Uwe Steinert

Early Thursday morning, Ecuador terminated the asylum status of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, and he was arrested by British authorities. Shortly after, the Justice Department released a one count indictment against Assange, alleging that he conspired to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act with whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010.

The following statement can be attributed to Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm:

For years, the Obama administration considered indicting WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, before rightly concluding it could not do so without encroaching on core press freedoms. Now almost nine years in, the Trump administration has used the same information to manufacture a flimsy and pretextual indictment involving a “conspiracy” to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—based entirely on alleged conversations between a journalist and source. While the Trump administration has so far not attempted to explicitly declare the act of publishing illegal, a core part of its argument would criminalize many common journalist-source interactions that reporters rely on all the time. Requesting more documents from a source, using an encrypted chat messenger, or trying to keep a source’s identity anonymous are not crimes; they are vital to the journalistic process. Whether or not you like Assange, the charge against him is a serious press freedom threat and should be vigorously protested by all those who care about the First Amendment.

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